The Zeigarnik effect

Never heard of her. But Bluma Zeigarnik was very perceptive and also diligent: what she noticed and then tested in the 1920s is a human truth that applies today, will surely always apply, and which helps your productivity.

From  Alina Vrabie on the Sandglaz Blog:

Some accounts have it that Zeigarnik noticed this effect while she was watching waiters in a restaurant. The waiters seemed to remember complex orders that allowed them to deliver the right combination of food to the tables, yet the information vanished as the food was delivered. Zeigarnik observed that the uncompleted orders seemed to stick in the waiters’ minds until they were actually completed.

Zeigarnik didn’t leave it at that, though. Back in her laboratory, she conducted studies in which subjects were required to complete various puzzles. Some of the subjects were interrupted during the tasks. All the subjects were then asked to describe what tasks they had done. It turns out that adults remembered the interrupted tasks 90% better than the completed tasks, and that children were even more likely to recall the uncompleted tasks. In other words, uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them!

If you look around you, you will start to notice the Zeigarnik effect pretty much everywhere. It is especially used in media and advertising. Have you ever wondered why cliffhangers work so well or why you just can’t get yourself to stop watching that series on Netflix (just one more episode)?

As writer Ernest Hemingway once said about writing a novel, “it is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.” But the Zeigarnik effect can actually be used to positively impact your work productivity.

The Zeigarnik effect: the scientific key to better work – Alina Vrabie, Sandglaz Blog (5 November 2013)

Read how to apply it to your work and to exploit it in yourself – plus see a photo of Dr Zeigarnik herself – on Vrabie’s full article.